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I realize Ubuntu Desktop comes with a simple tool that makes "installs to a USB", but isn't that a bit different from REGULAR Ubuntu installation?

So: If I boot the Ubuntu CD installer, and choose my Flash Drive as the destination, will it configure things specific to the hardware I am running on, so when I swap the flash drive to another system, there will be problems?

BTW, I've actually done this a couple times and it's worked, but I'm just wondering if those were flukes or if it is like this always.

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Ubuntu isn't as tacked down to hardware as much as many other linux distros. One example of this is take a look at the amount of kernel modules. The number Ubuntu uses is completely unnecessary, but they need to all be there if you want to be able to plug in a new piece of hardware without having to recompile your kernel. You could actually install to a harddrive, take that harddrive out and move it to a different computer and boot that, and you would have much the same success that your seeing with your thumb drive.

There are, of course, many things that aren't going to be that easy. The two primary examples that come to mind are video drivers and wireless drivers. If you install Nvidia drivers on one computer with an nvidia video card, and switch to a non-nvidia computer, you may run into issues. I looked through a lot of the Ubuntu documentation for references to USB installs, and none mention any differences to a harddrive install. I really don't think there will be any unforeseen issues from doing the install on one computer and moving to another apart from the normal things you'd have to do to get up and running (like installing the correct video drivers).

You know, there are other options too. If you're just trying to install Ubuntu on a computer without a CD drive you can install FROM a USB stick. Or, if you're trying to run Ubuntu from a computer without a harddrive you could setup a network boot where all the data is stored on the network and the computer can remain harddriveless. Running an OS off a thumbdrive isn't necessarily the best option because thumbdrives do have a limited life. They can only handle so many read/writes before they break down... far fewer than a regular harddrive... This is why or Solid State Harddrives are so much more expensive that flash thumbdrives, even though they are very similar. Harddrives have to support far more read/writes among other things. Talk to anyone who uses a thumbdrive many times a day and you'll see what I mean. Many wear out in a matter of a year or two. An OS does a lot more read/writing than just placing regular files on and off the drive... Things like SWAP are in constant flux.

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You can always try doing that.

I don't think that setup does customize installation for a specific computer hardware on Ubuntu, except for display drivers. I think it would be safe to have Ubuntu installed on flash drive (well, except for wear and tear which comes with having OS installed).

Still, there's no real guarantee that it will work on any computer. You can always find one that's incompatible for some reason.

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I don't believe the usb-creator tool in Ubuntu installs the OS onto the flash drive itself.

Rather, it copies and customizes the CD image to use the flash drive (to have the possibility of saving your session back onto the flash drive). That's why to create a bootable flash drive, you need either the physical CD, or the ISO file.

Pointing the installation to use the flash drive should work most of the time. I have to admit I have never done this myself. The downside is that you will need to update each system you use the key on (if you want to install Ubuntu), as the USB key will hold only the regular LiveCD, without any released update.

Despite this, though, I would recommend using the built-in tool, as it automates the process.

I hope this helps.

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You can in fact install directly to a USB Drive. The thumb drive acts like an actual OS, not just a LiveCD, so you would NOT have to update everytime you boot. –  Dan Jul 3 '10 at 10:30
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You certainly start with the USB key created by this menu option, as explained previously. But once you are satisfied, I strongly recommend that you install it on a real hard disk. Boot from the USB key, where you should find an Install icon. Start it, specifying the proper device for the USB key. At the very last screen, click htis "Advanced..." button to ensure that the GRUB loader is indeed installed on the USB device, not the main hard disk (/dev/sda). Restart your system, from this USB key.

if you have issues, I recommend that you COMPLETELY erase all partitions from the USB stick, creating a brand new partition tabel . This fixed several of my problems I had on USB key that would otherwise not boot properly.

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